All too often tragedy and illness strike whether through violence, illness or neglect. And very often it takes us humans a while before realizing that our response to the crisis is a flashing neon sign indicating something is out of alignment and we are signaled to listen--closely. And so it is with Trayvon Martin, the young black male who was gunned down by a stranger who claims he was exercising the rights ascribed to him by Florida State Law.
George Zimmerman, the man who murdered Martin proclaimed he shot him in self defense even though it was reported Martin's only weapons were snacks from a convenience store. When describing the 'threat', Zimmerman emphasized Trayvon was wearing a hoodie, as if an unarmed black boy wearing a hoodie constitutes sufficient justification for fearing ones life. One month later George Zimmerman remains uncharged for the murder.
In 2006, I wrote an article called "Here Comes The Neighborhood" describing a community meeting in a newly gentrified Nashville neighborhood which articulated how the unchecked fears (on the part of the new residents) put all young black males in the neighborhood--who were between the ages of 12-17 and wearing hoodies--at risk. The outrage that followed the publishing of the article was unyielding and it appeared that many were more offended by the suggestion that racial profiling had occurred than the fact that their internalized fear of young black males put an entire community in jeopardy.
If Trayvon Martin's killing were an isolated incident, there would not be millions of people marching in protest while wearing hoodies and petitioning to change the Florida State Law that appears to allow anyone to shoot someone because they 'felt threatened'.
But before we assign all outrage and blame on Zimmerman, let us be mindful of what inspired the act and the laws that prevent him from being accountable. The same internalized fear that allowed Zimmerman to feel threatened by an unarmed child are the same internalized fears harbored by those who allowed him to walk away.
Over the past year I've been working on what I call the "The White Privilege Pop Quiz", a series of key--yet seldom asked--questions that help those of us who are classified as white (and who are confused or resistent to the existence of 'white privilege') understand how we are in fact beneficiaries of privilege--whether we acknowledge it or not . (sample below)
4) How often have you been warned by parents or family members about getting stopped by the police or law enforcement and coached on how to behave or what to say in order to avoid being perceived as dangerous or menacing?
A) frequently B) sometimes C) rarely D) never
If your answer is C or D then there is a good chance you are someone who experiences white privilege on a daily basis.
Most mothers, fathers and/or guardians of black children (regardless of profession or socioeconomic standing) have always had to arm their children with safety plans and strategies to keep them safe from people who may fear them--specifically, but not exclusively, law enforcement.
Every parent should enjoy the privilege of knowing their child is safe and protected. Unfortunately in places like Florida it seems there is no one to protect the innocent from the "peacekeepers." We must remember that George Zimmerman did not take the life of Trayvon Martin by himself as there is a system in place that helped both facilitate and sanction his murder.
Perhaps a million marchers wearing hoodies will finally inspire us to face the real threat--the fear inside us.
Molly Secours is a writer/filmmaker/speaker living in Nashville TN